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Parental alienation can be categorized as a syndrome that involves the manipulation of a child by one parent into showing animosity and disrespect toward the other “targeted” parent.  This is done by one parent continually sending negative messages about the other “targeted” parent.  Parental alienation is seen almost exclusively with family separation and divorce, but can also happen within one household.  The most common primary cause of parental alienation comes from one parent wanting to exclude the other “targeted” parent from the child’s life.  This type of alienation is extremely damaging to the child, as well as the rejected parent, and it can take up to twenty years for the child to recover from once the reconciliation process begins. 

As for how parental alienation occurs, it involves the alienating parent continually sending negative messages about the targeted parent and “love bombing” the child by showering them with overwhelming complements and praise.  This essentially programs the child into believing the negative things they are told by the alienating parent, as well as seeing that parent as completely good, while the targeted parent is seen as completely bad or even evil.  This can be explained as a type of Stockholm Syndrome, where the victim (in this case the child) becomes completely dependent on one parent and therefore starts to identify with their beliefs and sympathize with their feelings.  In more extreme cases, the child’s animosity towards the targeted parent may spread to other relatives that are close to that parent, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  There is consensus that parental alienation is seen as a type of psychological abuse toward the child, and has been shown to result in long lasting mental and physical disorders in the abused child.  Unfortunately, although parental alienation is very serious, it is a largely overlooked type of child abuse. 

If you are an alienated parent, the ultimate question is how to counter this alienation.  Over the years, I have learned that it is imperative for alienated parents to reach out to their children in a consistent and gentle way, therefore showing the child that they love them and going against the delusional belief system the other parent has employed.  It is extremely important for the targeted parent to avoid acting in a way that feeds into the delusional belief system given by the alienating parent.  This means not getting angry, or giving up, which are the two biggest risks for targeted parents.  I also recommend writing letters or talking about positive memories, in order to resurface happy times in the child’s life.  Although being an alienated parent can be extremely painful and difficult, and can even feel like the child has been lost forever, the most important thing is for the targeted parent not to give up trying to communicate.